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Native on Native Studies

Recently I was at a global indigenous peoples' gathering with a really extraordinary format, in that we, as indigenous peoples, are invited to bring our way of prayer as well as our intellectual explorations about our history, our role in the world, and our preservation tactics, together. There is a specific place made for the presentation of academic papers at this gathering. For me this is difficult at times. I feel that witnessing my father's pursuit of academic confirmation, as well as that of other brilliant indigenous people that I have met, has left a bitter taste in my mouth in the ways they have been met at times from the Academy. My father lived in a time in which he had to prove that he was human being. The people who came to our land didn't believe that we were human. After it was established for many, but not all, that we were human, the next task was to prove that we had intelligence. The only way to make this proof, was by using the same criteria and methodologies as those of the oppressors. They could not see our intelligence any other way as their experience was very limited in regards to "knowing." And so I feel that my father spent much of his life "beating them at their own game." And I would argue that this was necessary in some way. It opened the door for new possibilities in relating. On the final morning of this conference however, I was given a deep caution by my spirit helpers. They said to me that it was crucial to be cautious about making a study of ourselves as indigenous peoples. That we, by doing this, we could endanger our own understanding of who we are and how we are. In the same way that the Academy tried to make our life through their studies of our culture, logical, linear, and intellectual, we, by participating in this academic methodology, we ourselves might reduce our way of life into this same two dimensional understanding. They said they understood why we have engaged in this activity. We have been "lured into it" by having to stand by and watch others, not of our cultures, fumble and misrepresent us because they had no context for true understanding of what they were observing. In fact there is no way to understand who we are by observation alone. And so when we had the opportunity, after past generations had established that we were human, and that we had intelligence that could be expressed via academic means, we took it upon ourselves to explain ourselves through this academic lens. We wanted to tell our own story. But, they said, we ourselves must not get lost in this mental exercise. It is only by participating with all of our body, mind, heart, and soul in the ways of relationship with ourselves, with each other, with the Mother Earth, and with our Spiritual Community, that we continue to be these indigenous peoples, indigenous in the most profound way to/with the Mother Earth. It is imperative that we remember, and guide the generations coming up behind us to know, that intellectual observation and explanation, are not in any way to be confused with participation and embodiment of our way of life and prayer. To me this is a mirror of the danger that we have fallen into in the context of scientific inquiry. To be the disembodied intellect and observer rather than passionate participant, and harmonious co-Creator, has led to a great misunderstanding of who we are, where we are, and how it is. To the detriment of All.